If Mark David Chapman hadn’t got to John Lennon, it’s not impossible that the Beatles would’ve got back together at some stage. For Live Aid, probably. Or maybe (if you can suspend disbelief for long enough) to do a prototype version of one of these full album shows. Something they never did live, like Abbey Road maybe, twenty years on in 1989. Imagine it, a week in the Point as part of a full world tour. All the music magazines running interviews with Lennon and McCartney, reunited at last.
Against this backdrop, somewhere in Boston, Massachusetts, another four-piece are in a rehearsal room threshing out a set of songs that would, to some, be as influential as any Beatles stuff. The song that Kurt Cobain claimed to have ripped off the riff from for Smells Like Teen Spirit. A set of chords that are pretty much 100% responsible for Weezer. Surrealist movies, environmental catastrophe, waves of mutilation. One of the foundational texts for what ended up, after the diversion of grunge, becoming the nascent, strong-contained “indie rock” culture.
Doolittle is one of the greatest albums ever made. Like a lot of people, but unlike many more, I got to see it live in its entirety. Would you be surprised to hear me say it was great? No, because you’ve probably heard reports already, or read reviews. Or because, come on, it’s Doolittle.
I went on Wednesday, meaning that I was among the first in the world to see this show. There was rust to be scraped off and dust to be brushed away. “This is the first time we’ve ever played this song”. Kim Deal coming in on the wrong beat and having to adjust, once. A generally tentative stage presence. Starting with four b-sides in a row didn’t help either. “This show is Doolittle and b-sides, these are b-sides”. Crowd responds cagily. Wait and see how this develops.
Man against my left elbow shouting “Here Comes Your Man!” and “Gouge Away!”. Getting (deserved) dirty looks. Because it’s not like anyone doesn’t know what’s coming. And it does come. Four notes four times on the bass and Debaser kicks in. Frank Black’s unhinged singing and Joey Santiago’s ultra-loud, amelodic lead guitar reminding you that, fat, old and bald as the Pixies may be, they are still a weird fucking band playing weird fucking music that just happens to be incredibly good and lauded.
Highlights? Pick what you like, really. Monkey Gone To Heaven, with a full Olympia singing “Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey” back to Frank Black, was pretty memorable, heavy as gravity. Hey, being this blog’s official Favourite Pixies Song, was one of the best things I’ve seen anyone do, ever. Don’t care how hyperbolic that sounds. With balconies standing to attention and a theatre full of people hanging on every note, it’s hard to imagine being in that moment and not being blown away by it.
Doolittle ends with Gouge Away and so the set ended with Gouge Away. I’m not doing well at conveying the gravitas and total presence of the moment when watching The Pixies do these songs in this setting. But it was good. Really fucking good. It was Gouge Away and it blew hordes away.
The encore consisted of two more b-sides, which were fine, but the peak had come and gone with Gouge Away. Satisfied and in a weird way feeling edified, I squeezed out as the lights came up and scratched something off a life-long mental to-do list I didn’t know I had.